Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Early Literacy: 3-year-old reads, writes, recites Countee Cullen’s “Hey Black Child”

Peighten for twitter of her performancePe’tehn Raighn-kem Jackson has been reading since she was 18 months old. Now three, she memorized and recited Countee Cullen’s poem, “Hey Black Child” for a Black History Month event. 7 online invited her  to perform the poem on air on February 25th of this year.

She and her parents speak a little about teaching a child to read and write early on. They’re just a start. Do you have a video or photos of your child reading or reciting  a story? If so, we’d love to share your child’s enthusiasm for books and literature with our Diverse Kids Books community. Submit your photos or videos to us in accordance with the guidelines on our Children Read Submissions Page.

Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes and Elizabeth Zunon #WeNeedDiverseBooks #WeHaveDiverseBooks #DiverseKidsBooks #Blackpoetry #MilitaryKid

cover Poems in the AtticPoems in the Attic is the picture book story of a seven-year-old African American girl who, during a visit to her grandmother’s attic, finds a box of poetry that her mother wrote as a child. Her mother’s poems are full with the yearning for an Air Force father who is often away and the wonder of discovering new places as the family moves again and again when her dad returns from deployments.

Nikki Grimes, the author makes several bold, creative choices in the telling of this story. The protagonist is never named and the story has a polyphonic poetic narrative voice. The protagonist’s mother’s voice comes through on the right side of the pages in the Tanka poems the protagonist is reading and the protagonist’s voice is represented on the left side of the pages in free verse poetry. (more…)

Award Winning Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown_Girl_Dreaming with all the awardsJacqueline Woodson’s lyrical memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, is memorable, and not only because it won the prestigious National Book Award in 2014, the 2015 NAACP Image award and is a 2015 Newberry Award Honor Book. At its roots, Brown Girl Dreaming feels distinctly American.

Woodson’s memoir speaks of a connection and separation with family as she reflects on her birth in Ohio, her early years in South Carolina, and her family’s move to New York City. Throughout the memoir she recalls the absence of her father, the strength of her grandparents’ love, and the disconnect of what makes a place “home” as she moves between the American North and South during the 1960s and 1970s.

Woodson’s narrative is linear: the book is organized into four parts and chronologically follows Woodson’s life from her birth to the later stages of her childhood. Told completely in poetic free verse, Woodson’s poetry is easily accessible, following more traditional modes of form and lineation. Each poem is powerful, yet they work cohesively to tell Woodson’s childhood stories of learning to love writing and herself.

Brown Girl Dreaming is not a story that will disappear lightly. Its themes are strikingly contemporary as Woodson’s young narrator lets the reader in on a journey that seeks to understand how race and faith shape a person’s childhood, family, and friendships. This book is one that walks quietly and affects deeply. In short: Brown Girl Dreaming is a book to return to, and a book that will continue to hold its head high for a long time.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended, Ages: 11+

Reviewed by Erin Koehler

Buy Brown Girl Dreaming

A Kiss Means I Love You by Kathryn Madeline Allen

cover for A Kiss Means I Love YouIt’s as important for babies and toddlers to feel like their emotions are understood and validated as it is for them to learn how to express how they feel, whether it’s through body language or words. A Kiss Means I Love You, a picture book with photographs of diverse children and families in various emotional and physical states, does just this.

Ranging from a smile to coughs and sneezes, the formula of “a ___ means I’m ___” will help babies and toddlers expand their vocabulary for expressing themselves, and hopefully develop sympathy and empathy through seeing the different children in various moods and states in the book. Like Dr. Seuss’s My Many Colored Days, the simple words on each page may help a child feel their emotions validated and shared by others.

This book would be great for daycares, especially diverse ones—my daughter took it to school and the toddlers matched one another’s names to the children on the pages, seeing themselves in them. A Kiss Means I Love You makes a good bedtime story as well, ending with the familiar line (in a new order), “I love you…goodnight.”

Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao

Recommended: 2-5 years

Best-Selling YA novelist Heidi Durrow Discusses Multiracial Identity with Omilaju Miranda of Mixed Diversity Reads

Heidi Durrow looking straight out Heidi Durrow is a super woman. The New York Times best selling author of the 2008 PEN/Bellwether award winning  The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, that gained unintended popularity amongst the YA audience is also an ivy-league and Stanford University educated lawyer, and journalist who hosts the national podcast ‘The Mixed Experience‘ and organizes the annual Mixed Remixed Festival, celebrating the arts produced by biracial and multiracial peoples.

 

On November 14th, Durrow, who is the daughter of a white, Danish mother and black, U.S.American father, interviewed Omilaju Miranda, founder of Mixed Diversity Reads Children’s Book Review, ostensibly to discuss Mixed Diversity Reads Children’s Book Review as a resource for those seeking picture and YA books with mixed heritage protagonists. heidiandomicollage.jpg

But the conversation veered into an unplanned discussion of multiracial U.S.American identity as well as literacy and representation in children’s literature. Listen to the interview here and become a new fan of ‘The Mixed Experience‘ Podcast. Follow Heidi at @heididurrow and the Mixed Remixed Festival at @mixedremixed or on facebook at Mixed Remixed.

Perfect Lil Blends by Luke Whitehead

cover for Perfect Lil BlendsPerfect Lil Blends: A Reality Book that Celebrates the Diversity  of Multicultural Children  is like a series of love letters from parents to their children accompanied by their children’s portraits. Compiled by Luke Whitehead, the founder of Mixed Nation, this is a photo essay of children of mixed heritage from almost every racial, cultural, and ethnic background. Yes, most of these children are exceptionally beautiful however, similar to, but more personal than, Kip Fulbeck’s photo essay book Mixed, each photo of a child is accompanied by a description of the child’s life interests and a note of dedication from the parents to the child, making this more than a vanity book of portraits. (more…)

When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright

cover for When a Black Girl SingsIf When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright was a dish served at a fancy restaurant it would be described as “adoption woes over a bed of teenage angst served with a side of parental problems and an empty glass of communication.” Doesn’t sound like a favorite dish you would order time after time, but it does fill a definite need on the menu.

The main character, Lahni, is a 13 year old black girl who was adopted by white, heterosexual parents when she was a baby. Living with white parents in Connecticut, Lahni attends a private school, with only a handful of non-white students. She feels completely out of place, alone and unable to connect with friends. Adding to her troubles, her parents are getting a divorce and her father has a new “friend”. Then her mother suggests they try going to church, where Lahni meets and befriends the choir director and the church’s soloist who are both black. She is coerced by her music teacher, who sees promise in her, into joining a singing competition at her school. Lahni joins her church choir to help her prepare for the competition and in the end finds her voice.

I found at many times in this book I was frustrated with Lahni and her parents mainly because they seemed to be hopeless at communicating honestly with one another and others around them. After a particularly upsetting incident at school where a classmate calls Lahni an “African baby on a television special” her mom says, “Maybe she meant it as a compliment.” Or when Lahni’s dad finds her waiting outside the door listening to her parents scream at one another, he simply takes his suitcase and gets into the taxi. Lahni, following the role models set out for her, never talks with her parents (or anyone) about how it feels to be a black child adopted by a white family or about the troubles she has as the only black girl in her grade. Lahni keeps her best friend at bay, only telling her about her parents impending divorce at the very end and then again shuts her friend down when she asks questions. Lahni’s struggle with communication does not end with her inability to share her thoughts, but it seems she is not able to garner messages others are telling her as well. Her music teacher and choir director clearly express on multiple occasions their admiration for her singing, yet even to the end Lahni refuses to have confidence in her ability. That said, the teenage years are not perfect. Transracial adoption is not always heart-to-heart chats and a warm cup of cocoa. And I am NOT a black, teenage girl being raised by struggling white parents, so perhaps I just don’t get it. And perhaps there is some reader in Lahni’s exact situation who will want to take Lahni into her heart because she is singing the reader’s song.

At one point in the story, Lahni is being stalked by a white boy in school who calls himself Onyx 1. This boy focuses his affection on Lahni purely based on his desire to date a black girl. Later he gets in a knife fight with two black boys and he calls them “two black apes”. When Lahni hears this, she is so confused about how a person can want to date someone who is black, nickname themselves “black” and then use racial slurs. In typical teenage style, although scared of Onyx 1, she chooses to handle it on her own. Lahni never mentions it to her parents or to another adult until the end of the book after she is forced in a deserted parking lot to confront him. I dislike the fact that the author had Lahni deal with this issue on her own. Obviously, in fiction the author managed the confrontation to work out in Lahni’s favor but in real life confronting a stalker is truly dangerous. I want the message to young adult readers to clearly state, “ask for help from an adult if this happens to you.” I did however like that the author kept Onyx 1’s character as undesirable and Lahni told him to get lost. Too many times, plots include the “good girl” falling for a “bad boy” when she discovers his soft side.

This book has a light Christian theme to it, but it is not overwhelming. In the beginning Lahni attends church for the first time and by the end she performs “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and realizes she is not singing but she is in fact praying.

Recommendation: This book is suitable for readers age 13+.

Reviewer: Amanda Setty

Always an Olivia: A Remarkable Family History by Caroliva Herron

cover Always an Olivia

Heartbreaking, historically informative, and beautifully illustrated, Always An Olivia:A Remarkable Family History is the true family history of scholar and author, Olivia Herron (Nappy Hair) whose family has preserved their Jewish traditions even seven generations removed from the family’s Jewish matriarch. While the story is being told to a granddaughter in 2007 by her great-grandmother, the narrative actually tells the story of their ancestor Sarah who, hundreds of years ago, was the Italian Jewish granddaughter of victims of Jewish pogroms in Spain and Portugal. She is captured by pirates to be ransomed off but saved by another captive with whom she falls in love and sails to the USA to avoid recapture, death or the burning of the homes and businesses of the Jews to whom she was supposed to be ransomed. Still afraid of anti-Jewish violence, Sarah adopts the middle name Olivia instead of using her given middle name, Shulamit.

In the U.S., customs settles Sarah and her husband on the Georgia Islands in the free, black African Geechee community.  Sarah and her husband have children and their children marry Geechees. Their descendants continue to practice the Jewish rituals that Sarah remembered (because, the text lets us know, she forgot many) including lighting the Shabbat candles on Friday nights. The women are the keepers of the tradition from being in charge of lighting the Shabbat candles to the legacy of naming a daughter of each generation Olivia or, as Sarah requested, a name that means “peace”. They choose to preserve the original name by naming a girl in each generation  “Olivia” after Sarah.

From the opening line in which the girl child Carol Olivia asks her great-grandmother about black U.S.American slavery and is told that her family experienced enslavement in Egypt, witnessed U.S.American chattel slavery, but was not descended from enslaved black U.S.Americans, this biography is an eye opening account of the different histories of blacks and mixed racial heritage people in the U.S. since the 16th century.

Despite the book’s engagement of the heavy subject matter of slavery, racial and religious persecution, kidnapping, family separation, and near identity loss, there is a hopeful tone in the reading, achieved through James Tugeau’s use of light in his dramatic pastel illustrations, the tone of the narrative, and narrative breaks in the relaying of violence to fully describe life in peaceful times. Thus, this story of a resilient family communicates the necessity of remembering family history. Always an Olivia makes it clear that despite their family history of terror, renewal, survival and reinvention, the family of Olivias is proud of, and takes comfort in, their family traditions and heritage.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 8-Adult (buy)

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Visiting my Father’s Homeland: Book Review for I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakité

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Losing teeth is a rite of passage for every child and, based on twelve-year-old Penda Diakité’s I Lost My Tooth in Africa, a visit from the elusive tooth-fairy is a welcome surprise for children all over the world as well—even in Mali, West Africa!

In the story, Amina, a girl born and raised in the U.S., and her family travel from Portland, Oregon to Bamako, Mali, her father’s birthplace and childhood home. Amina’s loose tooth—which she discovers while en route to Mali— tags along. After her father shares with her that the African tooth fairy trades a chicken in exchange for a little boy or girl’s tooth, Amina is determined to lose her wiggly tooth  before this family trip to Africa is over.

Infused with a strong representation of words from Bamabara (a glossary is in the back of the book), the most widely used indigenous language of Mali, and Malian cultural traditions, I Lost My Tooth in Africa is a mildly suspenseful narrative that children between the ages of 5 and 8 who are also going through the “snaggle-tooth” phase could especially appreciate while learning informative tidbits about a new culture and geographical location. The children in your life will be further inspired by the fact that this book, published by one of the five major publisher’s of children’s books, is the creation of a pre-teen author and her illustrator father.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended ages 5-8

Reviewer: LaTonya Jackson

Every Little Thing by Cedella and Bob Marley with by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

cover for Every Little ThingEvery Little Thing, Cedella Marley’s adaptation of Bob Marley’s song Every Little Thing could be called the companion book to Marley’s adaptation of her father’s One Love song. This time, the protagonist is a little boy from a loving family who spreads the joy and comfort that his parents give him through their affection and forgiveness, with other kids. Once again, Brantley-Newton’s illustrations powerfully tell a story with Marley’s words serving as the lyrical underscore for what is happening. I couldn’t help singing this book to my daughter and she easily and happily sang along in between asking questions about what was going on in the story. The narrative starts when the protagonist wakes up in the morning, follows him through a day of playing in the rain, and sun, enjoying time with his pets and three little birds, as well as his friends. He befriends a shy and isolated friend, makes a mess of his kitchen trying to bake a cake, is forgiven by his parents, sulks about bedtime, before his parents hug him and tuck him in, then he awakens in the next morning happy again. While the cast of characters is much smaller than that in One Love, a fair representation of black and white characters with different phenotypes is present. I was particularly happy to see an Asian child included as the subject of the protagonist’s friendship in the illustrations of this book as Asians were absent from the book One Love. Without question, this book is a joy to read, and once again the illustrations are perfect for the pre-literate child to practice “reading” comprehension skills in decoding the story told by the illustrations.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended ages 0+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda